BASSETERRE, St.Kitts (Friday 3rd September 2021)-“It was they who escalated the situation not the civilians. There were too many police officers.”
This is view of well-known social and political commentator Dwyer Astaphan, a former national security minister, who in his latest commentary recalled the outcomes of a protest -held on Friday 20th August 2021 dubbed ‘KITTITIAN LIVES MATTER peaceful walk’- as he openly criticised the conduct of the security forces who were under orders.
In summing up the nature of the protest which he linked to workers’ grievances and one which did not breach the Public Order Act, Astaphan who is a lawyer by profession talked about the peaceful demonstrators as well as the security officers who overplayed their hand.
“The forces should not have pressured the civilians the way they did. They should not have caused the tear gas to be thrown,” he expressed.
“Two Fridays, ago some people were down town Basseterre protesting. These are people who have been suffering for over a year; reduced from being paid monthly to weekly to hourly,expose to endless stress the workplace. Victims of aggressive and inconsiderate language from certain employers, and from no less the Prime Minister and other government officials. These are people who have been under severe pressure to pay mortgages, rents, utility bills to feed and keep their families safe and healthy. Many have now lost their jobs, and with all of the pain and suffering, they are understandably frustrated, despairing, afraid and angry. Small business owners who succeed from the pockets of these workers are feeling it as well so they are suffering as well and the whole macroeconomic impact is being felt. I’m talking about people who have reason to be upset; the people who were on the streets two Fridays ago.”
Astaphan continued: “Yet in spite of that they were peaceful, and any professional assessment of this situation at the time would have indicated that the protestors showed no signs of erupting into disorder or violence; none whatsoever, and if I may say so myself having been in the area for a while, it was the security officers who overplayed their hand although I sensed that a number of them were not really happy or preferring to be there and doing that but they were under orders. It was they who escalated the situation not the civilians. There were too many police officers. It was very muscular and I don’t know what Customs and Defence Force personnel were doing there. The forces should not have pressured the civilians the way they did. They should not have caused the tear gas to be thrown. There was no meeting, there was no march, there was no breach of the Public Order Act as far as I could see, and they should not have arrested those three persons who I believe will get their charges lifted or defeated and who seem likely to receive some compensation if they bring legal action against the government.”
“As I said, the soldiers should not have been there at all. They should have been summoned only if the situation showed signs of escalating, and I’m told soldiers were ordered back to base anyway, and I cannot see what authority a customs officer could have on a situation like that,” Astaphan added.
He informed that he has looked at the Customs Act as well and that while the Police Commissioner can engage a customs officer to assist the police, the interpretation of that has to be to assist the police in customs related investigations not in general policing.
“I could be wrong but that is my take of it, and I don’t believe a customs officer should have been present worst so accompanying a man to prison. Again, the people should have been warned about tear gas before it being discharged. You see escalating to tear gas takes the situation to a step where the next move is the use of weapon, and there was absolutely no evidence on the ground to justify things reaching that level,” he noted.
According to Astaphan: “This willingness by decision makers to suppress the people’s need to express themselves peacefully and this blatant lack of compassion and respect is only causing people’s frustration and anger to increase.”